A Fun Twist in the Road


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Unless I embarrass my kid…



Glossing over the incredibly boring details, I got a call last week from the Upper Division Transfer admissions officer at San Diego State University about my application for Fall 2015. The bad news is I cannot be admitted unless I’ve completed all my general education math coursework. (Friggin’ algebra!)

And that’s not going to happen before the fall semester begins, so it’s a non-starter. She talked to me about SDSU’s Open University program, which was always my Plan B, and dropped a bombshell. In order for the graduation evaluation I just got done in October to remain valid I must enroll in a class for the Spring semester, which began yesterday.

Of course to enroll I’d have to crash a class, although finding a class that fit the very narrow confines of what’s left for me to complete was the first hurdle. At this point it’s not even remotely about what I might like or be interested in, it’s all about what class is offered, with open seats, and ticks a box I need without conflicting with the damn math class schedule.

Found one, hallelujah! I went to war in the parking garages at SDSU this morning and finally found a parking space and then the correct building plus classroom. Seriously, it’s crazy hard to return to SDSU after 30 years, nothing is remotely familiar.

Guess who was already seated and waiting for class to start? Kid #1!

The professor thinks it’s an incredible opportunity for us to be in the same class and kid #1 seems fine with it, so I’m in.

It’s African Literature, which I have no experience with. I’m just glad it’s not Dead White Guy literature. I’m sick of them. Based on the syllabus, it looks to be the perfect class to get back into the swing of things with, especially since I’m also taking Intermediate Algebra at the nearby community college.

Things are going to get interesting. And to anyone who knows kid #1 in real life: y’all, we need to cut this kid some slack. SDSU is crowded and confusing and crazy. He’s doing an awesome job with his schoolwork and that’s enough for now.

Wish me luck!

You Just Never Know


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I’m constantly amazed and surprised by people. Today I went to the pharmacy to pick up the monthly prescriptions for one of my kids. You can’t even believe how I had to fight Voldemort to keep all three kids on his gold-plated, employer-provided health insurance. Seriously, what father would leave his kids without health insurance?

I breezed into the pharmacy drive-up and was completely horrified when the staff member told me, “The insurance company declined coverage.”


There’s been no change in insurance to my knowledge.

One of the prescriptions costs $800+ per month without insurance.

I don’t have a paying job and there’s no way that spousal support will cover rent and that one medication.

Holy shit.

The pharmacy staffer was incredibly nice and said she’d call the insurance company right away to find out what was going on. I had to disclose extremely private information about my kid in the friggin’ drive-through — thinking it might make a difference (it didn’t).

She said it would take about 15 minutes, so I ran another errand, and then went back to find the mess was still a mess. Came home and called the insurance plan administrator.

Here’s where things got great: there are two local people administering the benefits for Voldemort’s health insurance locally. (Guess how I know?!?) And the one I speak to most often is 51 and recently separated from her manipulative, narcissistic husband (again, guess how I know).

This woman could not have been kinder, more efficient and helpful, or truly compassionate. She remembered me from my call last month and got this mess cleaned up in 10 minutes.

I tend to go in loaded for bear with stuff about my kids. I have a Rambo attitude and that’s not always a great way to get things worked out. In this situation, I’m completely at the mercy of the insurance company. My kid absolutely needs the medications, which I cannot pay for without insurance. Fortunately, the plan administrator is awesome. She and I have bonded. She totally had my kid’s back.

People can be amazing sometimes, when given the chance. And I returned the favor by pointing her toward ChumpLady.

Harder Than I Imagined


And I have a good imagination.

I thought going back to school at 52 would be tough, but I really had no idea.

There were four people out of the 41 in the classroom over age 25. And I was the oldest of the four. One was the instructor. One was an Iraqi vet. The third was another (yet still younger!) single mom. The age thing was a bigger deal than I thought it would be.

Not always a bad thing, though. Most of the students were the age of my older kids and they treated me like their mom. Ya’ll, I acted like their mom: badgering them to do the homework, encouraging them to study for quizzes, cheering them on when they did well on exams. I don’t know if any of that was a “good” thing, it’s just part of my character at this point.

I was unprepared for the sheer number of hours a single elementary algebra course could consume. It was a part-time job. I sincerely tip my hat to everyone who goes back to school while managing a career and marriage/family. I put in at least 25 hours a week on homework and studying for weekly quizzes and exams. It was frustrating and surprisingly fulfilling.

Turns out I enjoy solving quadratic equations. Who knew?

In the end, I had to confront my desire to quit when things get hard. I got very discouraged a week before the (cumulative!) final. I was completely overwhelmed and felt entirely too stupid to manage the class. I really, really wanted to give up. Walk away.

I didn’t. I kept showing up. The physicists of the world have nothing to fear from me, but I got a B+. I’m very proud of that B+ because I worked my ass off for it.

Now I’ve got five weeks off before the next section — Intermediate Algebra — starts. I may not set the mathematical world on fire, but I bet I can pass that class, too.

Light A Candle


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I bought one of these (www.flick-candles.myshopify.com) in anticipation of Thursday — the day I signed the Marital Settlement Agreement, which will ultimately become my divorce papers.

The back of the candle reads: “Nothing captures the rich parchment of a legal document declaring an end to your failed marriage like Freshly Signed Divorce Papers. It’s not like everyone around you didn’t see this coming, and with the light from this candle now you can see it too. Part happy, part sad, a little relieved, and unsure of your future financial stability: the complex emotions of divorce are captured in this very complex candle.”

I figured I’d need some snark upon returning from my attorneys’ office. Boy, was I right.

Divorce sucks.  And it’s still not over.  His lawyer plays fast and loose with the paperwork, so of course some crucial bits were missing.  My lawyer is preparing the missing papers and will send them over next week.  Who knows how long it will take for Voldemort to sign and return.  Then everything gets bundled up and sent to the judge.

Current backlog in San Diego County Superior Court: two to six months.

WTFever.  This candle should smell like burning money.

Moldy Cherries on Top of a Crap Sundae


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Last week was horrible. No good. Very bad. The divorce that never seems to end took a turn into the ugly over the financials. The community college where I take my algebra class had an Ebola scare, triggering evacuation and that scare rippled across the street to kid #3’s high school. News vans and hysteria prevailed. Voldemort had an at-fault car accident last month and made a claim against the car insurance I pay. While he was at it, he also had the address changed on all our joint accounts so that bills and statements went to him, not me. Guess what bills didn’t get paid as a result?

I had hoped that the craptastic week was behind me and better days were ahead.

Then a pressurized water supply line in #3’s bathroom burst in the middle of the night, spewing water all over the floor and down the wall into the powder room below. Water, water everywhere…no drought in those bathrooms. So it was frantic calls to the plumber, the insurance company, the remediation company.

We’ve got two huge dehumidifiers and three industrial fans running to help dry out. The remediation company ripped out baseboards yesterday and are coming back today to tear out various walls. I’m not even sure which ones or how much ceiling is being demo’ed. The contractor showed up this morning for a preliminary estimate of work, which probably won’t start for at least two weeks, likely three.

While awaiting his arrival, my attorney called in an absolute rage. Voldemort signed the MSA and Mr. Men’s Rights attorney had it notarized.

Except that the MSA wasn’t finalized yet.

There are blank spaces requiring information from Voldemort. There’s at least one paragraph regarding his pension that needs to be deleted. There’s the matter of an up-to-date pay stub from him to confirm the support numbers. All these items were enumerated in the email that accompanied the latest version of the MSA.

Mr. Men’s Rights ignored it all, printed the MSA, and sallied forth. I think he did so because I insisted that he be the attorney to appear in court tomorrow for the mandatory status hearing. I refused to pay another dime for my attorneys to clean up his mess. I’m sure he wants to say his client has signed and I’m holding things up. Well, he pissed my attorney off and may have to deal with her showing up pro bono to smack him down in front of the judge.

It’s a goat rope.

And I have these suspicions about why Voldemort doesn’t hand over the requested information. What’s he hiding? Does he (or his attorney) truly believe that I’ll just shrug my shoulders and sign? The pension information has to be included before the papers can go to the judge for the final decree. No getting around it.

And I won’t sign until he produces a current pay stub. Period. It won’t make a difference in the final numbers, but he hasn’t been at all forthcoming and I’m going to insist he at least be honest about this. I’m sick to death of the half-assed, slapdash nonsense that Mr. Men’s Rights calls professional.

I guess the good news is that the divorce appears to be winding down. I’m tentatively planning to go in to my attorneys’ office next week to sign the MSA and then it will be sent to the judge. No one has any idea how long the final decree will take. Estimates range from a couple weeks to six months. But, I assume, the heavy lifting is over.

And we still have one functional bathroom, so all is not lost.

Hopefully, the rest of the week (…month…year) will be uneventful. Please, please, please.

Real Estate Freedom, At Long Last


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When I moved out of the family home and listed it for sale, I had absolutely no idea that it would take almost an entire year to sell.  Well, it took 10 and a half months.  The sales price was $26,000 lower than the initial list price, we gave the buyers $5,000 in closing cost credit on top of that and paid more than $23,000 in fees and commissions. Absolutely everyone from the buyers’ agent to the title company took a big bite out of our apple.  Here’s the ugly truth.

Our first offer came in less than two weeks after the house hit the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and was for $5,000 above asking price.  I hadn’t even had a chance to have the carpets cleaned at that point (the winter holiday gift-giving extravaganza was well underway and I ran out of time).  Unfortunately, that deal fell through and also gave us the insane idea that we* didn’t need to do anything else to make the house attractive to buyers.

Wrong. Very, very wrong.

For three months, we endured the nastiest feedback I’d ever heard about the house. We received at least a half dozen very low-ball offers, all citing the terrible condition of the house.  I finally had the entire interior repainted, all the carpet and tile cleaned, and replaced all the faucets (upgrading from the crappy builder grade stuff).  I also had the fridge removed and painted the pantry shelves.

Then we received no feedback at all, but still got really low offers.  Apparently real estate is something that lives by the creed, “If you can’t say something negative, don’t say anything at all.”

We lowered the price three times.  We accepted three or four offers out of the dozens we received and opened escrow three times (I think, it’s become a blur of disappointment and aggravation).

One thing that really stood out was that no one offered our list price in their first communication.  Most of the offers were a solid $20,000 or more under our reduced asking price and then would negotiate up to list price or would fizzle out. Since we’d been in escrow multiple times, the house had been appraised multiple times and we knew the value. The house was priced accordingly.  Buyers’ agents knew this and still wrote appallingly low offers.  It was a huge waste of time.

It felt like everyone was out to get a steal of a deal.  It made me as a seller feel like I was being robbed.  And who volunteers to be robbed?

Another thing that was astonishing were the neighborhood comparables.  Buyers’ agents routinely ignored valid comps and used the ones that would support their buyers’ desired price — meaning the comps were for homes that were appreciably smaller.  Like we wouldn’t notice?

At the very end of the process, we had multiple offers.  One of those offers was a VA buyer, who predictably offered $35,000 under list price and demanded $8,000 in closing cost assistance from us.  This was the same routine we saw from every single VA buyer.

You know who we didn’t sell the house to?  A VA buyer.  Between the price concessions, the closing cost concessions, and the realtor commissions, those buyers were asking us to pay or lose upwards of $65,000.  As a buyer, at some point you’ve got to ask yourself, “Would I pay $65,000 of someone else’s real estate costs?”

No, you wouldn’t.

That final VA offer included neighborhood comps, too.  The agent cited a home right around the corner which was built by the same developer and had similar square footage.  It was priced $50,000 less than our house.

Want to know why?

Half the rooms were painted black and there was dog feces all over the floors and carpets.

Hmmm, is that a valid comp to a freshly cleaned and painted home that’s move-in ready?

The family who bought our house and finally closed escrow had their own share of market-related insanity to deal with in selling their old home.  That difficulty dragged escrow out, but was ultimately worth it.  They have three young children and this is exactly the house for them to grow up in.  I hope they have many happy and healthy years there.

It’s safe to say that I’m relieved the house has sold.  I may be even more relieved to be out of the real estate game.  It’s rigged.


*When I say “we” I’m referring to myself and my realtor-friend.  Voldemort was pretty much invisible throughout this entire process.  In fact, my realtor-friend has never met him in person or even spoken to him on the phone.  They interacted via email exclusively.

Meet The Neighbors


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We’ve been living in our townhouse for about 10 months and, despite my misgivings about the size, it’s a perfect fit. The neighbors are interesting, too. Let me introduce a few:

The Vampire Gardener
This guy lives over the fence to the left of my back porch. In early Spring, I was awoken by the weirdest snick-snick sound from outside around midnight and rolled over to look out the window. There in the light of the moon was the Vampire Gardener, pruning his backyard bushes while wearing a bathrobe and sweatpants.

Since then, he’s made two more appearances to garden in the middle of the night. I’ve never seen him when the sun’s up.

Yakusa and His Pitbull
The couple whose back porch is directly behind mine share their home with a pitbull. The guy is covered in tattoos. The dog is named Rambo. The woman rarely speaks. I give the three of them a wide berth.

The Hoarders
Sandwiched in between the vampire gardener and the possible gangbanger are the hoarders. Their yard had the most enormous ficus trees I’d ever seen. One tree had grown over a portion of our shared back fence and provided the perfect shade cover for The Hydrangea That Wouldn’t Die. Earlier this summer, some guys showed up and chopped the ficus trees down while the head hoarder watched.

I thought maybe they were cleaning up the yard in preparation for a makeover or a move. Nope. The removal of the trees not only took away much-needed shade cover, it exposed all the broken plastic storage tubs strewn around their yard. Then they put something lumpy out there and covered it with a huge red tarp.

I don’t even want to know what’s under that tarp.

Creepy Santa
At the end of the block, right by my assigned parking space and the mailboxes, lives a retired man with white hair and a white goatee. He also has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, whether he’s laughing or not. One evening in August, I was coming home from a walk while he was leaving in his car. He stopped the car and loudly said to me, “The Arab market has lamb shoulder on sale for $2.99. Do you know how to cook it?”

(Ummm, what? I didn’t even know there was an Arab market nearby. And WTF, dude? I’m female and therefore genetically programmed with all food preparation knowledge?)

I answered, “No, sorry, I’m vegetarian.” Then power-walked my ass home.

A month later, he pounced on me when I went to pick up the mail and I got roped into neighborly chit-chat which included Creepy Santa’s thoughts on custody agreements: “I hold dual citizenship and told my ex that if she didn’t agree to a reasonable financial settlement, I’d take the kids to Peru and she’d never see them again.”

Followed by a dissertation on how much he loves “those scallops wrapped in bacon and a thick steak,” which led to, “Let me take you out to dinner.”

“No, thank you. I’m vegetarian.”

“Oh, you’re that one.”


The Great Walenda

This guy lives next door to Yakusa and Rambo. I met him on Mother’s Day, which he spent standing on the common fence in plastic flip-flops, tearing down a 20 foot tall palm tree with (I kid you not) a Sawsall.

At first, I was worried about his safety, but as the noise-filled day dragged on, I began to root for the palm tree.

I’ve met a few seemingly normal people, and as a bonus, there’s even a Girl Scout right across the street which was handy during Cookie Season. Most of the things I worried about before moving here turned out just fine. But I forgot about the possibility of weirdo neighbors in rather close quarters. At least they’re generally quiet. At night. Mostly.

This Old Dog & New Tricks


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I’m almost two months into my community college “Elementary Algebra” course and I’m killing it. I’ve got a cumulative 92% and actually scored 100% on my quiz last week.

Go, me!

The class meets four hours a week and I spend more than 20 hours a week on homework and studying for tests. It’s a part-time job.

A part-time job that gives me headaches and makes me swear at my laptop.

One of the coolest and most convenient changes since I was last in college (way back in 1986) is that the curriculum is online. No lie. We use MathXL for homework and it is awesome. Problems are graded instantly and there are multiple explanations for why you’re wrong, you dingbat.

My only issue is that sometimes when I click for help, MathXL tells me to start solving the problem by [whatever] and I have no idea how to do [whatever] which is why I asked for help, you infernal program from the depths of hell.

Otherwise, it’s great.

Plus, my instructor is amazing. She’s pragmatic, doggedly determined that her students succeed, and funny.

I’ve learned a lot about acceptance. It’s never made any sense to me that multiplying two negative numbers makes a positive number. I used to get so caught up in the not-making-sense that I stopped listening to whatever came next. Now I just accept it as a rule and move on. Millions of math students accept two negatives make a positive, I’m just gonna join that crowd. Screw it.

We’re currently learning to graph equations in a rectangular coordinate system. I’m deeply apathetic about this endeavor, but the only way past it is through it, so on I go. Rather than resist, I accept and keep plodding (or plotting, if you’ve had to do this kind of problem solving!) along.

I’ve found that I’m practically a savant with word problems. I actually prefer word problems to strings of numbers, which is really no surprise. Barb wants to know if that wallpaper border remnant on sale will be enough for the perimeter of her guest room? I’m her mathematical girl. Joe wants to build a dog run and needs to figure out the amount of fencing to buy? I got this.

The exception to my word problem brilliance is the planes, trains, and automobiles questions. You remember this crap: two trains leave Chicago going in opposite directions, traveling at different speeds, how long until they’re 798 miles apart? (These are called uniform motion problems and they suck. Plus, I just can’t work up any give a damn for them.) I spent hours and hours trying to master these and they still make my head swim.

It also turns out that math is actually pretty nonjudgmental. There’s a name for an equation which has a solution like this: 4=23. I thought that name was “wrong” or “damn it, I have to start over.” Nope. It’s called a contradiction. Crazy, right?

The transcript evaluator from the University called last week to request a fresh copy of my first college transcript as the one she had from 1980 on microfiche was unreadable. She had some tentatively bad news and I’m probably looking at three college level algebra classes (and G*d only knows what else). I hope there are lots and lots of word problems.


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